Friday, April 5, 2013

Silence Is Louder Than it Sounds

When Aharon's two sons died, the Torah reports his reaction: "And Aharon was silent". How is it possible that Aharon remained silent as his whole world came crashing down? What was going through his mind?

It´s written in Ohr HaMussar that Aharon was greatly praised for remaining silent -- for not complaining against the Almighty and for accepting the will of the Almighty. Why? Before something happens one might be able to take action to prevent it. However, afterwards, what can one do? He can fight it or he can accept it as the will of the Almighty. Was his acceptance of the Almighty's will exceptional or unique?

Aharon lived by a very basic, fundamental philosophy, which is the essence of Jusaism.
Every single thing that happens in life, happens because God so desires. Whether it comes as a direct message from heaven, or it requires the service of human messengers, there isn´t a moment of joy or pain that one experiences without it being willed from Above.

Have any of you ever been insulted? Felt verbally or emotionally attacked? Been made to feel inadequate or unworthy by someone?

I´ve experienced all of the above. These unpleasant encounters have made me realize that although sticks and stones can break your bones, words can send you to a lifetime of therapy.

The natural reaction, as a victim to any of these attacks, is to fight back. To defend myself. To prove them wrong.

But, constantly defending, explaining or justifying myself would leave me without many friends, very quickly.  Do you enjoy being around an apologetic, defensive person?

This person becomes tiresome not because of a string of complaints, but because of the somewhat toxic nature of self-defense.

Someone who engages in constant justification and explanation seems to be sliding down a spiraling path of negativity and insecurity, often sounding guilty-as-charged. I know that when I find myself in justification mode, there's often some part of me that feels insecure about the area, perhaps even wondering-fearing-believing that it must be true.

I have learned that when I feel the need to defend myself, somewhere deep inside me there´s a little, annoying voice  offering its unwelcome opinion that they must be right and I must be wrong. The defending, explaining and justifying never seems to change anything and, instead, tends to anchor me more deeply in the issue that needs to be addressed.

A while ago, I read an insightful article that taught me one of the most important lessons of my life.
Here´s the gist of the story: after a wonderful lecture on the value of seeking to understand and be understood, the lecturer took questions from the audience. One gentleman took the microphone and proceeded to tell him that he was full of beans, didn't know what he was talking about, and had no basis for his point of view. The speaker considered the comment, and replied, "Thank you."

After a couple of more rounds of this kind of exchange-attack, wherein the gentleman kept going after him, trying to provoke a reaction, the lecturer taught me a great lesson in self-awareness by saying something like this:

    ¨Did you not notice that each time you spoke, I paused to consider what you had to say? I looked inside myself to see if some part of me was reacting to what you had said about me, particularly if any parts of me were upset, prone to counterattack, or otherwise affected. I have found that when I am in that kind of reaction, there is typically something there for me to learn about myself, something for which I need to improve. In this instance, I found no reaction. Thus, you were simply sharing your opinion to which you are fully entitled and with which I have no argument. Therefore, "Thank you" seemed most appropriate.¨

Indeed, this wise man demonstrated considerable self-awareness and personal integrity throughout his life, and this little exchange has been a guiding light for me. Learning to see the reaction inside myself as feedback about me, pointing out areas of growth, not something to be defended, has been both expansive and liberating for me.

Aharon´s specific situation was one in which his pain was directly from heaven, with no qualms about it. But what about those moments when we´re hurt by people? When other humans cause us pain by insulting or attacking us?
Those are the moments to stop, contemplate the situation, and recognize that this, too, is from heaven. God wants me to feel this pain or embarrassment. Yes, the abuser has free will and he will be judged for that. But there are two people involved here...and my concern shouldn´t be him; it should be me.
Why did he do that to me? Why did he say that to me?
Because God willed it. God decided I needed that to enhance my personal growth.
Being angry at him, defending myself, responding to the attack in any way, will not help my growth at all, it only helps me dig myself a deeper hole of negativity and self doubt.

Aharon´s lesson to me is that it´s much healthier to remain silent in moments like these. I know that I have often regretted my speech, but never my silence.
Silence is also speech; it´s of victory and confidence. I have learned that the best time to hold my tongue is when I feel I must say something or bust! Because there is nothing more empowering than self control and discipline.

This was the greatness of Aharon. He remained silent because he knew clearly that everything the Almighty does is purposeful. He knew that everything the Almighty does is good. When things consistently go well for a person, he feels an inner-joy. Acceptance of the Almighty's will, regardless of the way the message was sent, is the most crucial attitude to make part of oneself for living a happy life. The more we learn to accept the will of the Almighty, the greater joy we will experience in our lives.

Remember that silence is much louder than it sounds.

Have a beautiful shabbos.